Slow academia: in a search of quality

“It is only through enforced standardization of methods, enforced adoption of the best implements and working conditions, and enforced cooperation that this faster work can be assured. And the duty of enforcing the adoption of standards and enforcing this cooperation rests with management alone.” F.W. Taylor (1911). The Principles of Scientific Management

Our time is a time of metrics and analytics. The growing possibilities to collect data is having a huge effect on everything: from security to the ways academia works. Especially in the academia there seems to be a strong believe that if we just get enough data we’ll finally get the Taylor’s idea of scientific management right. For many people in the academia it is very appealing concept. Think about it: scientific management.

Quantitative data is dangerous. People are good at manipulating it. Over-optimization happens before you are able to type Key Performance Indicator. It drives people to consequentialism and degenerates virtue ethics. Yes. It happens in the academia, too.

Reaching quality requires long term thinking. It needs time. It needs continuous development. Designing high quality university programs and courses takes tens of years. Many of the courses in the top universities have been taught for decades. Stanford’s ME310 course is one example of a course that has been developed over 30 years. The methods and culture developed in the 1920’s in the Bauhaus were so powerful that the New Bauhaus is today in Chicago. Developing MIT Media Lab’s culture and pedagogy took years. After 35 years they are still “inventing the better future” and really doing it.

My academic home base, the little Media Lab Helsinki is 22 years old. The culture and pedagogy in there is unique, too. The mission of the Media Lab is to explore, discover and comprehend the new digital technology and its impact in society: to find and exploit the possibilities it opens to communication, interaction and expression and to evaluate, understand and deal with the challenges it poses to design and creative production. Mixing research, thinking, doing practical experiments and demos is deep in the culture of the Media Lab.

In the Media Lab Helsinki I teach the Introduction to Media Art and Culture course. I have been working on it over 6 years. It is not perfect at all. I was just reviewing student feedback and there is a lot of work to do, to make it better. Quality needs time to evolve.

This autumn I am helping to design and develop another course The Storytelling in Virtual Reality. It is an experiment. We will explore how we can combine meaningful online study work and flipped classroom with hands-on workshop. One major thing is to develop an online service for fishbowl conversations. It will be a bit different video conference.

I am expecting that the first pilot course is not a great success. The hands-on workshop will be good as the people doing it have done it many times. The online part, especially the conversations, will be difficult to arrange. Anyhow, the next year it will be better. Quality will be there. Slowly.

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